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Entries in Something Simple (3)

Wednesday
Apr242013

A Post About Toast

I have many food and memory associations, but I'd like to talk specifically about toast.

Yes, toast.

John and I have been very lucky to have spent every summer since our respective births at the Iaciofano shore house in Beach Haven, New Jersey. Consequently, as the days turns very slowly warmer, I start to think about my food memories that my summers there have given me.

The Shore House (as we Iaciofano's call it) used to be turquoise, have outrageously ugly 1970's furniture, a creak in the wood-panelled staircase, an odd musty-humid smell that was strangely comforting, a white stone yard and a breakfast table nestled up to two, large windows that overlooked the bay.

At this table, my grandmother would have her breakfast while the sailboats drifted lazily (or purposefully, depending on the wind) outside the window like an animated painting.

You may be thinking, "Oh, we are about to learn a Iaciofano family, fancy breakfast recipe!"

But you'd be wrong.

My grandmother always had toast for breakfast. Burnt toast with butter.

I would sit across from her at the table and watch her spackle butter onto her blackened bread, the knife scraaaaape, scrape, scraping across the surface, sending ash-like flakes onto the tabletop.

Even though there was nothing special about this meal, I wanted it. I thought there was something unmistakably grown-up and therefore sophisticated about toast and coffee, even though I couldn't understand why my grandma ate it so charred.

Did she like it that way?

Had she just not mastered the family toaster?

I never asked and it is unfortunately too late to do so.

However, even now, I think there is something somewhat magical about toast. It's the caterpillar to butterfly transformation of a piece of bread taking on a new texture, color, smell and even flavor by spending just a few minutes in its heated cocoon.

These days, I have very specific ideas about what I consider to be a perfectly toasted piece of bread. I don't like mine burned. I like it a nice caramel color – just cripsy enough to allow for some residual chewyness and the absorption of butter or other condiments (should you use them). Too much time in the toaster and you essentially produce bread jerky – a veritable shingle of stiffness in consistency. 

Consider the following shade diagram:

Once you have determined your desired level of toasted-ness, you can dress it up. Toast is the perfect blank slate to apply edible accessories and make a....well...a "grown up" dish.

Let's use the above Country White slice as an example. Perfectly bronzed with a light, buttery make-up application, a frilly arugula skirt, topped with a poached egg and a glittering of salt and pepper.

Once cut, the gooey yolk runs into the porous toast, creating a crispy-oozing mess of rich deliciousness. And there's nothing more grown-up than arugula. The bitter smell released by the heat of the cooked egg is like that rare childhood aroma of my mom's perfume when she was getting ready for a night out with dad.

We can make toast more sophisticated still by swapping the bread with a baguette or Italian loaf. Sliced on the bias, lightly toasted and drizzled with olive oil, it becomes the vehicle for any number of cocktail-napkin treasures.

My personal favorites are the Avocado Bruschetta: tangy and smooth with a hint of hot pepper punch.

 

Also eloquent are Gorgonzola and Roasted Pepper Bruschetta: a dollop of creamy gorgi with slippery peppers and salty capers.

As with much cooking, it's the foundation that's the key. The base, in this case, being a perfectly toasted piece of bread. So crack open a loaf and make some toast...and memories. Sailboats and shore house are optional.

Friday
Dec092011

Squishy, Crunchy! Roast Some Fennel

I've been roasting all kinds of things lately. I happen to believe it makes most foods taste better. Especially vegetables.

One vegetable I'm particularly fond of right now is Fennel. Actually, I'm not sure fennel is a vegetable. It is a plant that you can eat. But whether or not that throws it into the "veggie" category is up for debate. Wikipedia is terrifyingly silent on the subject.

I never used to like fennel. It has an anise or licorice flavor that can be intense if you're not into that kind of thing. Are you into that kind of thing? Because I've recently changed my mind, and I'm totally and completely into it.

Especially when it's roasted. With lemon. Oh yes, Lemon Roasted Fennel. Let's get to it;

What You Need:

1 bulb of fenel, cut up however you want. Throw away the leafy parts.
3 tablespoons of olive oil (your favorite kind)
Juice from 1/2 a lemon
Sea salt - a sprinkle
Freshly ground pepper - a couple of grinds
OPTIONAL: Feel free to throw in some fresh herbs like thyme or rosemary!

What You Do:

1. Heat your oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Place your chopped fennel in a large bowl.

3. Add in the olive oil, salt, lemon juice, pepper and optional spices.

4. Mix it all up with your hands to make sure all the fennel is evenly coated with the good stuff.

5. Spread the seasoned fennel onto a baking sheet and bake in the oven for about 25 minutes. The edges of the fennel will start wilt and the edges will begin to brown.

NOW WHAT? You've roasted your fennel and now what do you do with it? I would suggest you eat it.

You can eat it plain, as a veggie side dish, accompanied by a nice roasted chicken or fish.

You could put it with some roasted fingerling potatoes, mixing everything together in a medley of roasted wonderfulness.

OR....wait for it....You could TOP A PIZZA with it.

It's so good as a pizza topping. But you will have to wait for that. I'll post about it next week.

Tuesday
May172011

Something Simple – Roasted Peppers

Can we talk about my hair? We spend a lot of time talking about John's hair, and I would like to discuss mine for a moment.

It's Tuesday. And it's raining in New York. And it's fixing to keep this up all week. Rainy, humid weather means one thing for me – curly hair. And I don't mean wavy. Think Shirley Temple – the girl not the drink.

This New York rain is coming down two ways: torrents/sheets and that spittle/mist that is all around you, rendering your umbrella useless. Not to mention your hairspray.

So this week I need something easy to eat. Something I can bring to work, throw in a salad and eat indoors. Avoiding the outdoors altogether, and decreasing my chances of being mistaken for a poodle walking on its hind legs.

Last week, The Box waxed poetic about the Perfect Antipasto, which included roasted peppers. He suggested that you make your own roasted peppers, and I am going to echo that. Because really, it's so simple even The Box could do it.

What You Need:
A red pepper (or two or three....)
Some olive oil
A plastic Ziploc bag
That's it, people!

What To Do:
Heat up your oven to 500 degrees.

Rinse your pepper under water, and dry it off. Rub it with a thin coating of oilve oil and place it on a cookie sheet on the top most rack of your oven.

Bake. Until black char marks start to appear on the outside and skin gets all wrinkly. This could take about 10 minutes. Or so. You be the judge. It should look like this:

Put this wrinkly, charred veggie in a Ziploc bag. The steam from the pepper will cause it to wilt. After about 10-15 minutes in the bag, you can get brave and open it up. It should be cool enough to pluck off the green stem and peel off the skin.

Then slice it up into thin strips and discard the seeds, skin and stem.

DONE!

Throw them in a salad, garnish a goat cheese adorned baguette, top a pizza, string them together and make a roasted pepper necklace!

Make lots of 'em!

Don't go out in the rain! Seriously, it's scary out there. Or at least I am.